Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Monthly Archives: August 2016

The problem with being 40.  §


© 1983 Bruce Nauman (art) / 2004 Aron Hsiao (photo)

Being 40 years old has this kind of terrifying truth to it.

You’ve been around long enough to know what’s real and what’s not, and to know more or less where you stand on things. That end to the superficial mysteries of life can take your breath away; it’s not so easy to live in denial any longer, and there aren’t all that many harmless mysteries left in your life to solve.

With all of the easy answers undeniably found, you’re left with the truth about yourself and others, and with the deep questions, the ones that everyone wonders about but no one is really sure they want to solve.

— § —

What sort of fool fails to pursue success to their greatest potential?

The sort of fool that is worried that success and answers to the big questions are orthogonal—that finding success is a kind of off-ramp from real life, a way of becoming comfortable enough to postpone all reckonings until one’s death bed.

The kind of fool that, in an ascetic, monastic impulse, thinks they have to discover a secret of some kind before they can allow themselves to move on, because otherwise, life and all of its joys and suffering will have been for naught, worldly success or no.

— § —

Sometimes these days I feel rather like I did twenty-five years ago.

I look around and I see people that are all exactly the same. They share the same types of things with others. They talk about the same topics. They all hold the proper opinions of the day, related to the proper issues of the day. They have the same Facebook photos: either duckface or wry smile, then “adventure photo” of some kind in a faraway place that was once exotic and difficult to reach but is now an object of easy middle-class consumption, then a smiling photo with friends, most likely at an implied party, then a photo having a drink, then a photo in swim attire that they’ve consciously selected to try to wink about the fact that they’re in swim attire and pretend that it’s “just another photo of a fun life.”

They all signal their virtues: open-minded, adventurous, outgoing, ironic, sarcastic, tolerant, worldly, making it, eco-conscious.

They are as boring as fuck. Seriously. They have nothing to say and nothing to contribute. They may as well not be there.

That’s the darker side of why some fools might not pursue success to the best of their potential. Because they understand that this is what everyone else does, and they can see the results, and they want no part of it.

— § —

I know, I know. It’s just that I want to know real people and I struggle to find any. Sure, there is a real person underneath all of that somewhere, but it is well and truly hidden away, cemented over until old age or cancer or something.

I want to know more people like José the tow driver or John the building super. Real people. Or people that I knew at the University of Chicago, every last one of them insane but wonderful. People that I can learn from.

— § —

A worthwhile person is not one that holds all the right opinions, demonstrates all the right behaviors, and encourages wayward children to recycle.

A worthwhile person makes life and reality larger, more beautiful, less reducible, and more—worthwhile.

— § —

Wristwatches. Wristwatches are still amongst the most beautiful things I can think of. Wristwatches, camera lenses with heavy, exotic glass, and stone wet by rain. These are the pure substances of the universe.

— § —

I keep thinking about the car. It is not going to go forever. Right now, we have:

  • Missing engine bay undercover
  • Vacuum hose leak leading to turbo
  • Resurgent major oil leak, likely also at turbo oil inlet
  • Aging interior showing signs of wearing out
  • Naff tranny that has always been iffy, since it was bought

Thing is, I really love the car. And so do the kids. At the same time, I keep having the thought that at some point, it will have to be replaced.

With what?

I know one thing, I’m done being sensible about this sort of thing. You spend a lot of your life and times in a car. It is the vehicle of memories, and thus, the vehicle of all of the identities that pass through it.

It’s not the sort of place where you want to compromise with something sensible, unless you want to erase yourself just a bit more than the rest of capitalism and modernity already do.

— § —

Is it unhealthy to be in love with camera lenses?

I feel as though both my Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 and my Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 call out to me in the middle of the night. They want me to come and hold them.

Is that weird?

— § —

For a long time, maybe since February, I was in dark wristwatch territory. Gray dial, black dial. Everything else looked wrong. In particular, the gunmetal Titanium Citizen with black dial and red accents seemed to be the thing.

Now I am at light colors again. White dial. Silver steel. Light. I feel as though I want to wear white shirts, too, though I’m not really sure I can pull it off any longer. Maybe in the winter.


Public domain

What is this saying about my state of mind?

— § —

I love fall. I can’t wait for fall. Tomorrow, we are going to decorate. I feel my senses coming around; I anticipate the cool air and the change in scents and light. It’s like I’ve been on the streets for 24 hours hunting and collapsing and I’m about to get well again.

— § —

Forgiveness is a dumb thing to talk about. Everyone focuses on forgiveness as though it’s a thing. It’s not. It’s an aggregate subset of the things comprising the bigger issue: benevolence.

I find myself reflecting on my ability to forgive before realizing that I’m chasing my tail.

It’s not “can you forgive” someone that matters. It’s “are you a benevolent person” or not that answers all other questions.

Nobody is entirely. But a lot of people don’t, as a consciously adopted value, even try to be.

Rén.

Wish there were better translations for the term. Wish most people understood more about translation so that intercultural gems weren’t either neutered or transformed every time they step on the boat or airplane of cross-cultural communication.

But it is what it is.

That’s the trick in life, the ultimate distillation of the way. It is what it is. And then, you smile. Because you have the choice. It is what it is, and you can either smile or you can frown.

Tidbit.  §

I am a damned sound copywriter. Every now and then, that makes me really happy.

More introvert stuff.  §

I am wondering if I should try to track down some sort of introverts meet-up group.

It’s not that I want to wear this label like a flag or turn it into an identity, but it becomes clearer every day that this is a huge faultline in human worldviews, and that it’s tough for strong introverts to appreciate and connect with strong extroverts and vice-versa.

I’ve been thinking about music this evening and realizing that in fact, all of the music that I like is ultimately “introvert” music; the lyrics—when they exist—are about what is happening inside the writer, not what is happening in the world. The latter I tend to find vacuous, though it has many admirers—presumably mainly extroverts.

The same goes for reading. Digging into popular blogs, I find that I am so incredibly bored by those that simply post reviews or talk about the events of the day without reflection on what is happening inside the writer. I constantly find myself wanting to yell out, “yes, but what did you think and feel, and why?!”

— § —

In general, extroverts tend to do everything with a single word, a single note.

They are “in love.”
They “had a lot of fun.”
Something “made them so mad.”

To me, these aren’t feelings or responses, they’re evasions. What, prey, is “in love?” The phrase is meaningless. It can describe nearly anything. It tells me nothing about the parties—the hopes, dreams, insecurities, the attached memories, forms of cognition, ways of understanding other people and their place in the world, and so on.

I don’t want “in love” or “was so mad,” I want paragraphs and paragraphs on the nuances, not sensory details, but intuitions and realizations, amusements and repressions. I want to see behind the curtain. I am interested in private headspace and private heartspace, not public encyclopedia entries that are so “universal” that they in fact tell me nothing and lack all specificity.

If there is one thing that humans are, it is specific. Individual. I tend to think that extroverts don’t connect with this very well; it doesn’t do anything for them. Introverts are the opposite; your story about what happened today means nothing to me unless it is firmly grounded in an exposition about your innermost soul, and it is only by this sort of exposition that my attention can be held at length.

For extroverts, twenty words in a row on an innermost soul is cause to roll eyes; forty words in a row is reason to break off a friendship. They are moved by the dolphins and the deliciousness of the food and the fact that everyone had an “amazing” time, whatever that could possibly mean—and let’s face it, it could mean anything at all.

— § —

Is there any way to bridge this sort of gap? The older I get, the less likely I think that there is.

New York. Aging. Cognitive function.  §

Every now and then (though the occasions are becoming more and more rare), I have a reason to mention my life in New York in conversation, and—as a corrollary—to remember that I used to live and work there.

Because, you see, I forget. I forget all about it.


© Aron Hsiao / 2011

And then, when I get to talking about it, and allow myself to remember, I feel desperate and frustrated and despondent and regretful and furious and utterly without hope at the fact that I no longer live there, that that life is now long gone.

I was happy there. Happy. I loved my work. I loved my lifestyle. I loved the place. I loved the people. I love the picture of the future that hung somewhere in my mind when I lived there.

I was happy. Happy.

— § —

I feel as though I am wasting myself here. I remember what conversation used to be like and the things that I used to do every day and the strategic and practical problems that I used to work on and I realize: this is what making a catastrophic mistake in one’s life looks like.

What I am afrid of is this: That over time, my cognitive function will decline, but nobody will notice it, because there is no opportunity for 95 percent of anything that I know or or 95 percent of anything that I can do to ever be expressed or used in the life that I lead now. That I will forget what I know and fall behind currents of knowledge. That I will never again feel as though I have a voice of any kind in public life. That I have become small, smaller than myself, smaller than I ought to be—that my life will become similarly small, shrinking even more than it already has, though it has already shrunk to such a degree that I feel imprisoned. That I have committed the sin against virtue of not using my talens for the greater good.

A lot of things.

— § —

There are few things in my life that make me feel really, trully burdened, beaten, and hand-wringingly unable to tolerate things.

Thinking about the move from New York, and the move out of academics, makes me want to chew my limbs off. I live in denial about it because in no way am I able to confront it consciously without losing it. Hopefully I get to that point.

But boy, oh boy, was it a mistake. The mistake of a lifetime. The critical mistake that separates a live lived correctly from a life gone wrong.

— § —

When the kids are older, and they are asking me questions about how to make decisions in life, I will tell them: Never, ever, ever compromise on your path in life. You know your path. We all do. If we say that we don’t, it’s because we can’t face the degree to which we are betraying and have betrayed it.

Stay on your path, always. Do not let anyone talk you out of it, no matter how much you care for them.

Because any sort of caring based on pulling people out of their paths (a) will never last, and (b) is a shallow sort of caring to begin with.

Of course, I was told all of this and it didn’t end up making a difference for me. They may end up in the same boat. But as a matter of integrity, that Is what I will be compelled to say, whether it will be easy for them to hear it—on any particular day or in response to any particular question—or not.

Rén.  §

 

On seriousness.  §

Because, in fact, it is almost nowhere to be found any longer.

Once considered a virtue, seriousness is now taken by default to be a kind of pretense. The previously serious people of previous generations, it is now presumed, were actually running a card game in a back alley of the public sphere. They had pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes. What they claimed to be wisdom was merely the seedy exercise of power over those born to less privilege—those uneducated enough (even this now is taken as a term of hegemony; I suppose most would now say that it is proper merely to call them “those underprivileged enough”) not to see through the charade and to understand that they were being taken to the cleaners.

There never was, goes the current imagination, such a thing as “seriousness” at all, not in the way that it was claimed to exist, and thus all of its practitioners were either crooks or charlatans.


© Aron Hsiao / 2003

And so it is that now seriousness has become a kind of inside joke. Anyone that at times claims or aspires to it does it with a wink and an elbow; it is an ironic pose, something to play with, a bit of postmodern performance, much like claiming to be a poet, writer, or historian has become. Work done “seriously?” Oh come now!

“Look at me, I’m a serious person!” now means little more than “Here I am, an activist’s activist, here to burn down your barn and do it with a smile on my face under the guise of ‘seriousness!'” and everyone knows precisely what they mean. In so-called “elite” circles, it is understood that no one is actually serious; rather, we’re all dressing our battles for advantage up under such terms for the benefit of the Soylent plebes. Isn’t it a lark! They get something to admire while being digested and we get to participate in a joyous, elite pantomime, don fancy dress, and pretend to be something archaic and anachronistic for a night! It’s like swing dancing for rich boors, haha!

— § —

The University of Chicago, where I did my master’s degree, is one of the last remaining institutions in the United States, perhaps in all the western world, to embrace “seriousness” with something akin to—well, let’s be direct—seriousness.

Even a decade and a half ago when I entered, I was startled to hear in the orientation lecture for the division that I was entering a serious place to do serious work that was meant to be taken quite seriously. Already at that time hearing such language seemed anachronistic to me. I took it initially as everyone now takes it—as either pretense or the height of irony. I wasn’t sure which.

But my time there showed me that, in fact, the school is an anachronistic institution, a place out of time. A place that still makes moral arguments about the virtues, a place with an actual philosophy behind it. I use this term merely to highlight the way in which it stands out as strange in today’s world.

As if anything means anything! As if anything is solid! As if claims can actually be made rather than toyed with! As if one might have the gall to believe that some things are right and others are wrong, that some things are better and others are worse, without framing the entire mess within the bezel of an HDTV showing, cinema verité style, how all such claims are merely parts of the game of power and identity played by all, in which every gesture is a move and every move is a tactic and every tactic happens in pursuit of a strategy existing as a matter self-serving conquest—a matter of identity, of in-group and out-group, a matter of domination by performance, a matter of hegemonic chess amongst a population of thinking animals (and I mean that in the most vulgar sense of the term).

It is one of the few places that doesn’t shrink, even today, from universalistic claims and debates, lecture rooms from which irony has been banned, large words used not in jest but in fact in functional, workmanlike parole.

— § —

The “advanced” world now hates seriousness. It is seen as a kind of implicit hate speech. Seriousness, you see, was merely the ruse that the White Male Corporate Oppression used for centuries to steal milk money from the milkmaids.

To aspire to seriousness, or to talk about it seriously?

Surely you mean “to steal something from someone,” mister pretentious! And it’s an old joke anyway—thought you were hipper than that! Surely you don’t expect anyone to believe the preposterous claim that you take seriousness seriously?

— § —


Unknown source

And so it is that, as I’ve said earlier, we now live in a world devoid of grown-ups.

Because seriousness lies at the heart of the image of the true adult, the true adult is either an inquisitor or a fraud. Either way, he or she can only do, and can only mean to do, harm—intolerance, ecocide, chauvinism, petty thievery—all in order to line his or her own pockets.

The game is up! The grown-ups were a band of rapists and robbers all along!

We’re, thus, all going to stay young forever. We’ll listen to a lot of rock music, eat organic, start co-ops, buy local, investigate alternative religions, read a lot of books by the hipster elite, and use “seriousness” as a the humorous lance with which we pop one anothers’ embarrassing personality boils.

— § —

The world could use some serious seriousness once again. Seriously.

It is easy to despair at the lack of it, and to imagine that it is not long for this world. Few seem willing to defend it without irony. Few seem to be able to imagine that this might even be possible, much less desirable.

Didn’t we win that battle already?

Didn’t we spend half of the twentieth century and all of the twenty-first cranking back the curtain on that particular wizard?

Well, the University of Chicago, I’m happy to say, has just shown that it has not given up on seriousness yet.

May it never do so.

I presume that its foundations, too, have seen some rot—but clearly they have not, as of yet, crumbled entirely.

— § —

We are all afraid of our own shadows, comfortable enough to desperately want to remain comfortable forever.

The serious men of the past tower above us, and so we make fun of them, like hooligans smoking weed in the high school bathroom. Our self-assurance is precisely evidence of our deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and of our attachments to our poses and cliques.

— § —

Yes, I aspire to seriousness. To become a serious man. To take things seriously. To think in moral and universal terms. To state clearly what I believe and to entertain within the light of reason all comers, in order to come to understand the best of them and to understand the problems with the worst of them.

I think this is what the last remnants of the old-guard, now-nearly-dead conservatives meant by the term “conservatism” before it was taken from them and used as a venue for deep-South barroom brawls.

They meant that they meant to be serious, and that perhaps the rest of us ought to take seriousness seriously as well, if we don’t want to leave the world worse for our children than it has been for us.

If there is no other matter that anyone can admit today to be serious in nature, can we at least agree that the question of the world that our children will live in is a serious one, deserving of serious consideration without irony or “enlightened play?”

— § —

I hope so. Seriously.

Thursday night in late August.  §

Strange how it all comes out in the wash.

I agonized last year. Really agonized. I sat in an empty parking lot for hours, days in a row, thinking. Trying to work it out. Every last emotion I could muster was involved. I felt so torn.

Now? Now I don’t feel any of that.

And, strange as this may sound, that feels like a loss. I’d rather have felt more. I suppose I’m all feeled out.

— § —

Strange how one never falls in love with those that one is most compatible with over the long term, while invariably getting involved with those that simply don’t match up in any way.

Is this everyone’s experience? Is it universal? Or is it a particular disease that only some of us have? And, it would seem, that we talk to those others about endlessly—those ones we belong with but don’t fall in love with—and on a mutual basis.

— § —

It now seems a million years ago that I was writing my dissertation.

I don’t like that sensation.

I don’t like it at all.

— § —

I should be angry, but I’m not. I should feel a lot of things, but I don’t. I feel like my old, introverted self. I spent years trying to fit myself into the mold of something that I wasn’t, and it just didn’t work. You can’t change for people. You are who you are.

I am my old, introverted self. I don’t share much of what I feel. It’s not that I’m repressing anything or hiding it from myself. It’s all there. It’s just that it’s mine and isn’t for everyone else—except the impulse to reflect on things. That I share. That, and that alone, can be public.

— § —


© Aron Hsiao / 2007

The world outside myself is kind of like a thunderstorm that happens outside your window while you work on something else for hours. It’s there, but it’s only in the background. It’s not something you’re conscious of. And it’s far away, on the other side of the glass, a fact of life, but not one that you necessarily pay attention to all of the time.

If you stop and look at it, it can be beautiful, and it can be impressive. But if you’re going to go out in it, you know that you’ll need to take an umbrella, and really most of your senses and sensible mind tell you that there’s really no reason to go out into it much at all, unless you’re ready to channel the storm and consciously evoke some sort of pure presence, a kind of performance, even if only just for one.

Until you’re ready to do that, you stay indoors, and you let the storm stay on the other side of the window while you do whatever it is that you do. You’ll go out if and when you’re ready. And it will only be every once in a great while.

— § —

I’ve been writing this blog for a very, very long time. It has been my companion through four degrees, a dissertation, seven books, every woman that’s ever been in my life but the first one when I was sixteen years old, an entire marriage, the births and childhoods of two children, life in every state I’ve ever lived in, and every serious job I’ve ever held.

This blog is, in most every way that matters, a record of (at least the marginally shareable parts of) my inner life over the years. I like that. There’s something comforting in that.

In a world of instability in which nothing seems permanent, durable, or trustworthy, this seems permanent, durable, and trustworthy. Real. Maybe it’s the only thing that is.

— § —

Introverts terrify extroverts. Always have, always will.

Because they make extroverts confront the fact that everyone has inner spaces, and that these simply aren’t able to be shared. Introverts are the proof that everyone is, ultimately, a stranger to everyone else. And for extroverts that is the least acceptable of any possible truth.

We are the great shatterers of illusion, and often they hate us for it.

Nightly rituals.  §

This has become one again, thank God.

Whether or not there’s anything to say. I’m fine with that.

It’s good to have rituals. Rituals and rites of passage are the great missing elements in modern life, full as it is of “empty, homogenous time” (there’s that Benjaminian thing again).

Good place for a list. My gospels (or is it prophets?):

  • Walter Benjamin
  • Lao Tzu
  • Blixa Bargeld
  • Tu Fu
  • Roberto Bolano

I know, no women. Call me a traitor to the enlightened present. Call me anything you like. It’s been a day. I’m off to bed.

— § —


© Aron Hsiao / 2002

No, wait.

There’s more.

Life is a hard problem to solve. Annoyingly hard. This comes from a longtime professional problem-solver. Take my word for it.

And social life? Thrice as hard as life itself.

In other words—discipline, boy. Discipline. Let’s not keep knocking over the same pins, day after day, even if it seems to be the only option available. Discipline and patience. Resolve once again, to be as smart as you are. Use that massive brain of yours to find interesting loopholes in the rules of the game. That is the path forward.

There are many weird situations in life. One of them is to be from a lower-middle-class cultural background with elite skills and training, neither one thing nor the other. Utterly wrong for the cocktail parties, utterly wrong for the dive bar as well.

Back to square one: my natural habitat (the only one) is the state university campus. Where smart makes sense to people, isn’t a force for isolation, and has definite value—but at the same time, where much of the interaction as “the smart person” can be with regular folk, and mixed-nature ties of that sort that are impossible and nonsensical anywhere else can be formed under the state university’s singular and particular phase of the moon, so to speak.

Enough of this cryptic bullshit.

Now I’m off to bed.

Eight years, nine months, three days.  §

It’s official.

I guess there’s nothing more to add.

Nothing, in fact, will ever be added again.

That’s life, I suppose.

— § —


© Aron Hsiao / 2016

Selfie of me on “the day.”

One more to add to the list.

What happens next? Who knows.

I consulted the I Ching on a lark, but it just said to stick to the plan.

As if there was one.

— § —

I feel like I’ve quoted this so many times before, but I’ll quote it again.

For the record.

“A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.”

(Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History)

Boundaries, age, and time.  §

I started out writing another post on boundaries—in relation to divorce, in relation to careers, and so on. I think that in our society we’ve lost sight of them; all boundaries have fallen, or at the very least are under constant assault and must be defended, largely because we have made it okay—removed any and all related negative sanctions as a culture—to continously test and attempt to surmount the boundaries of those around us, even if they have drawn them consistently and repeatedly.

There was a time when this continuous testing would have been considered at the very least rude, and at most a sign of mental illness or inadequate social development, but our “activist” and “driven” culture has erased all of that.

Now if you fail to constantly push at every boundary you encounter, you are “not living your best life” and “allowing others to make the rules for you.” The sublimated warfare that is the body of social mores becomes ever-less-sublimated as a result.

Now look at me. I’ve started to duplicate my boundaries post again. That’s called a digression.

No.

— § —

Tonight, for reasons related to a friend and their particular ailments, I’m thinking back to all the people I’ve known who have died over the years. All of the sickness and the hospitalization, all of the funerals and the sadness and the comments about how it was “their time” or about “what might have been.”

We all live very close to the edge.

At the same time, we all try all the time to push it from us. I’ve said here before that I think the west spends a great deal of its cultural energy secretly trying to either deny or defeat the fact of human mortality. It is the engine of our society, in many ways.

But I’ll admit that I, too, have spent a great deal of time in life trying to escape it. You keep thinking that if you just play your cards right, with determination and patience, you can “put all of that behind you” and achieve, finally, a state of safety and stability. Standing finally in this state once it has been achieved, you will be able to look forward to a long stretch of no death and no endings, the “regular life of adulthood,” in which you can forget about loss and about death for at least a couple of decades while you “live your life.”

Intellectually, I know that this is a silly sort of imagination. Emotionally, I think I do it as much as everyone else does. Trying to combat death and endings, to push them off into the shadows of decades hence, is a kind of fool’s game that everyone seems to play.

You can’t possibly win. So why do we continue to play? Why do I?

It’s a good way to waste a life, playing a game that can’t be won. And yet those moments of loss are so intense and unbearable that it seems nothing but sensible to try one’s best to avoid them, forestall them, subvert them somehow.

— § —


© Aron Hsiao / 2007

Another fall is about to begin. Time marches on. People suffer. People die. Things end. Yes, new things begin, but the older you get, the smaller the number of beginnings in the world that might actually in some way belong to you.

They belong to others. They belong to the young, which you aren’t any longer.

It’s a funny thing, aging. I can see why people buy sports cars and miniskirts even in the years when such things make them look ridiculous. You don’t imagine yourself to be “older,” and I can’t conceive of ever feeling “old.”

You like stuff. You do it. You buy it. Just like you always did. When you look at tomorrow, “your life” is still ahead of you, even if in some abstract sense you understand that this life is considerably shorter now than it once was. But you don’t feel yourself moving along the path of linear time, positioned somewhere in the middle or beyond, rather than at the beginning of the segment that happens to be your life.

You feel the now, and the presence of possibility that is the yet-to-come. Just like always.

But it is your responsibility as a citizen of the world to look at where you are, and to realize that even if you can’t feel it, your role in the world is changing, and to try to remain young despite your years is to steal youth, in a way, from those that—like you—didn’t ask to be born but are here—and young—right now. It’s their prerogative, not yours.

When you’re old, you have a job. Your job is to be old.

— § —

I want to age gracefully. I want to accept it. I reject as ugly the cultural admonitions (okay, let’s call them ads, for the most part) that this is somehow sad, and that the right position is to “fight it all the way.”

That’s the sad thing. Watching someone “fight all the way” in a game that they cannot win, that no one has ever won. It’s a waste of resources that could be spent elsewhere. And it tends to draw pity.

No, I want to be old and boring, not forever young (and expending more and more energy to appear so) and then suddenly dead, having never experienced much beyond youth and the fight to maintain it.

I’m ready to be late middle age. I’m even ready to be old, I think.

It will take me time to learn how to do it all properly, but I don’t plan to resist along the way.

Working iWidgets on iOS 9.x.x? It can be done.  §

So as a part of my rediscovery of Daedalus and Ulysses I’ve decided to move back to iOS. That sounds good, except for the fact that the one thing (a simple thing, really, but never underestimate simple things) that I am really attached to on Android is my control over the launcher—time, date, and weather widgets, plus the ability to organize icons to provide a visual cue for which screen I’m on and to help locate the screen I’m looking for.

So I desperately wanted to find a way to reproduce this on the iOS springboard (which I frankly hate) to make the switch more palatable.

I installed iOS 9.3.3 and used the recent Pangu jailbreak. So far, so good. And the Cydia Anchor app provided the ability to position springboard icons in the way that I saw fit. But despite my research beforehand, in practice I found that despite installing iWidgets, no time-day-and-weather widgets I could get my hands on actually worked properly. Apparently they used to work in an assortment of previous iOS versions, but despite installing and uninstalling lots of hacks, I couldn’t get them to work in iOS 9.3.3.

So finally I dug in and got my hands dirty, and this is the result:

 

So what was the problem? The problems are multiple:

  • The Yahoo Weather API, which (as far as I can tell) all of the previous generation of widgets relied on, has been closed, and significant updates are required to use alternatives. Such updates are not yet forthcoming.
  • GPS access is not automatic, but apparently requires the installation of a tweak that is no longer available under the name that most older tutorial posts refer to.
  • Not too many things on Cydia have yet been updated for iOS 9.x.x, and Cydia is of course a terrible mess anyway.

After a lot of chasing wild gooses around, here’s the process that I put together:

— § —

Caveat: All of the terminal stuff I did as root (using “su” command). I don’t even know if that’s necessary. But whatever, I was after quick and dirty and working, not fancy and clean and perfect. N.B. the default Apple root password is “alpine” for those that don’t know.

1. Install these via Cydia:

  • cycript — it’s a dependency for webcycript (not available on Cydia, you’ll have to install manually—more on this in a moment)
  • terminal — probably doesn’t matter which one; you’ll need the command line
  • iFile — says it’s not compatible with iOS 9.x.x but it installs and works, albeit with periodic crashes
  • wget — use it to fetch files from the web directly down to your iOS filesystem
  • unzip — use it to unzip any ZIPs that you download
  • WidgetWeather3 — new infrastructure for driving GPS (don’t even know if necessary, but I’m not messing with what’s working now)
  • iWidgets — for obvious reasons

2. Now, head over to this URL for the first “hard” step—getting the unofficial (i.e. actually works with 9.3.3) webcycript link. The instructions say to use Safari to download the file and iFile to install it. I couldn’t figure out a way to get Safari to download to the local filesystem (presumably this is another tweak that I’m unaware of). And it’s hosted on Dropbox so there’s no easy download URL. So I did this:

  • (desktop:) Download webcrypt.deb file to my desktop.
  • (desktop:) Get the file hosted somewhere with a URL. I used FTP to put it temporarily on my own domain.
  • (ipad:) Fire up terminal, su root, and then:
    wget http://url-and-path.tld/webcrypt.deb
  • (ipad:) Still in terminal:
    dpkg -i webcrypt.deb

3. That got me the latest webcycript with a version hack to enable 9.3.3 successfully installed. With that installed, I could head back to Cydia and download:

  • InfoStats 2 — new infrastructure for getting various kinds of information from your iDevice

Big note—don’t update webcrypt in Cydia, you want the modified version still installed until some future update of the package on Cydia.

4. Now all the infrastructure is in place. It’s time for some iWidgets. But which ones? The ones on Cydia all use old (and non-functional on 9.3.3 and in the post-Yahoo-weather era) resources. Turns out that for some reason (I don’t know the ins and outs about the iOS jailbreak/mod scene) all of the widgets at this URL appear to use the new stuff and to work properly.

That should be great, except that annoyingly they’re all distributed as ZIP files, rather than as packages. Okay, so for each one that you like, you need to:

  • Copy the URL
  • Go to terminal on iOS
  • Use wget to download the ZIP
  • Use unzip to extract the ZIP (they all have relative path information, thank god)
  • Move the extracted folder into Library/iWidgets
  • Remove the ZIP file so as not to clutter up your filesystem

Once you’ve placed the subfolders in Library/iWidgets, they all do appear when you try to add widgets to springboard (by long-pressing on an empty springboard area). Combine with anchor to “make empty space” for widgets, and you’re good to go.

Well, almost.

The new generation of widgets at the URL above are all also sized for phone devices, and are by default sort of tiny on iPad devices. Not to mention that many of them seem to be “in progress” with huge bounding boxes and lots of code that doesn’t do anything yet. Apparently their authors are all building big, complicated widgets that do all kinds of reporting on battery status and so on, and while they’ve implemented some of the HTML and code up to and including time and weather, the rest is yet to come—but they’re already bounded for the full monty, meaning they take up half your springboard screen with half-completed stuff or empty space. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Happily (well, sort of), you have the HTML in the folder for each widget you’ve unzipped. Now you dust off your CSS and coding skills and iterate with revisions, commenting out js code that isn’t doing anything much, HTML code that is displaying empty or half-completed block-levels, and rearranging CSS to your appearance preferences. And so on.

This is where iFile comes in—you can browse to the widget folder, locate the relevant script, HTML, or CSS file(s), and begin to hack around with the widgets (editing and saving in place) to enlarge their size or change their appearance. Great!

Only—another caveat—someone, somewhere is caching the CSS. So after you place a widget once, none of your future changes appear, even if you edit the CSS file. This makes it hard to iterate with your revisions. My solution?

After each new CSS save, I went back to terminal and just did an “mv widget-folder-1 widget-folder-2” (basically—I renamed the widget folder each time I made a change). The list of widgets is updated automatically, and you can try out the widget again (under the new name) in a way that will reflect your most recent changes.

The end result is what you see above.

Kludge city. But this is at least one way that it can be done, and that’s what I was going for. N.B. that if you’re not totally clear on things I said above, you should probably avoid this process entirely. A genuine comfort with the Linux/*nix command line, HTML/CSS, and with kludge work in general, is pretty much a must.

But it can be done by someone that isn’t intimately familiar with the off-the-path iOS community, if you have basic dev skills and a couple hours on your hands.

Behind walls.  §

I don’t know whether I’m more wary or more circumspect right now as a general rule, but certainly I’m not free and open and ebullient.

It has been a very long time since I was able to take life for granted and not live every day by manning the internal battlements. Others have sometimes suggested that I relax, but the stimuli have been external since last decade.

I wonder if the day will ever come when I feel as though I have a sorted and risk-free personal life that I can entirely take for granted.

That’s what I’m looking for—the chance to simply feel comfortable (no, I don’t mean finances or chair coverings) in life again. To be able to look at a day and think about opportunities, rather than hitting the ground running to fight risks and other dragons.

I miss that feeling terribly—the feeling of waking up to a world of endless possibility, untarnished by danger.

DVD-RAM reliability, failures, cartridges, and reading old data.  §

Interesting tech tidbit. Don’t know if it will be useful to anyone.

For a few years between about 2003 and 2008, I used DVD-RAM to archive data of all kinds. I had always adamantly relied on the cartridge-style media because I thought it would protect the discs better for archival purposes.

I eventually switched away because I started to realize that I was having trouble reading from some of the discs, and because it was so damned slow. Put the two together (slow and unreliable), and you have a real PITA on your hands if you need to restore data.

Well, this summer I’ve made a project of trying to get some of the data off of those old discs that is no longer stored elsewhere, and to re-archive it on other media (I now use DLT, though I’ve also thought about switching to LTO—another post in that sometime). It has been a nightmare.

  • Most discs won’t read cleanly. Of about 70 discs, I don’t think I’d had one that read without multiple failures (until today—more on this in a moment). Each time I try to read I disc, I’d get a few files, then some I/O errors, then a bus reset and an eject. And then I have to re-insert the disc and resume the attempt to read it.
  • At times the bus errors cause hangs in system applications (I’m using Mac OS) that can’t be handled with a “kill -9” to the hung processes. The “ps” command shows them either in the “U” or the “E” state, both of which are bad news if they remain that way and a forcible kill won’t work. The Finder process becomes a zombie, the system is beachballed, no keyboard input is accepted, and I have to reset. You can imagine how this multiples the PITA effect of trying to recover data.
  • Some of the discs won’t mount or be recognized at all. I have accumulated a stack of disks with a side marked by a pen-drawn star, indicating that this disc will have to wait until later to try more serious recovery methods.

Because of these issues, it has taken me weeks to plough through about twenty discs. If I get one copied off in a day, I feel like I’ve had a success, and it has to be nursed along continuously with command restarts or system restarts.

— § —

As it turns out, one recent disc wouldn’t mount. So I wrote a star on it and was about to toss it aside when I noticed some plastic sticking out of the cartridge door. I pulled it open and there was some debris still semi-attached to the cartridge, from an improper mold or cut or something like that. I didn’t think much of it because it didn’t come into contact with the disc (it was near the center hole) but just on a lark and in frustration, I broke open the cartridge, removed the DVD-RAM disc, and inserted it into the reader bare.

Voila!

The disc mounted. Not only that, the whole thing (all 4.7GB of that side) copied off without a failure. I’ve now done three sides that way and only had to restart the “cp” command once after I/O errors. That is a significant improvement in readability by removing discs from their cartridges.

— § —

My conclusions?

  1. DVD-RAM is a fundamentally unreliable technology. While data survivability on the media is often specified as fifty years or more, I am getting read errors out of discs that have been in very reasonable storage conditions after just four to five years (note that I did still have a read error after removing discs from their cartridges as well). All of these burns were tested when made.
  2. The cartridges make things worse for some reason. Just why I couldn’t say—the extra weight altering the balance of the internal mechanics somehow? Something to do with airflow? I don’t think it’s friction, as I haven’t heard anything (or seen any scratches) that would support that hypothesis. But the fact remains that discs that wouldn’t mount in-cartridge are mounting just fine out-of-cartridge, and I’ve gone from 20-30 interruptions due to read errors per side to one interruption due to read errors every three sides. That’s a huge improvement.
  3. It’s not just one drive. For backup mechanism reasons I have two Panasonic LF-D211 units and one LF-D311 unit, all purchased at different times and from different suppliers. All have exhibited trouble in reading previously written media over the years. (I originally bought the second drive because I thought the first was failing, then bought the third because I thought the second was failing; then, over the years, I realized that it was just the medium in general that was flaky and each unit was probably behaving according to spec).
  4. It’s not just one brand, age, or capacity of media. I have a mixed bag of Maxell, Verbatim, Imation, OptoDisc, and unbranded cartridge discs with varying case colors and disc colors. They were purchased as needed over the years that I used DVD-RAM. They have all had the same issues, though the 2.6GB-per-side media have performed somewhat better than the 4.7GB-per-side media (again, leading me to suspect some sort of fundamental flaw or tolerance issue in the format).

In short, don’t use DVD-RAM for archival purposes, as they just don’t hold up and writes are unproven, even after verify—and if you have to get a bunch of old data off of DVD-RAM media and are struggling, try busting the discs out of their cartridges, as this seems to radically improve readability for some unknown reason.

Natality.  §

“To make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”

(T.S. Eliot)

Coda (standing in for tears).  §

I imagine my children, growing over the years, leaving their childhoods behind and becoming—day by day—people in their own right.


© Aron Hsiao / 2016

And I imagine them living in a world in which their parents have always been apart, so far as they understand things, on a day to day basis. It is taken for granted. Normal. The nature of things.

And yet, I also imagine them having strange, fleeting memories now and then as they walk to the mailbox, perhaps, or as they put their cars into reverse to back out of the driveway, or as they slide into late sleep before another day of high school or college.

Haunted, fleeting, half-conscious half-images, faint recollections, unplaceable impressions of an ancient time, now lost to history, a dream world in which they lived together with both of their parents, in the warm womb of a family—of all of us in the same room, making pancakes, mowing lawns, tidying bookshelves, playing games—mornings and evenings in another life, a life they’re not sure they actually lived, that they can’t quite bring into focus, no matter how they try, no matter how they reach out to grasp.

A world that they can not be sure was ever real.

The line, I believe, goes: “Once upon a time, in your wildest dreams.”

I don’t know how successful we were at shielding them from the endless tension, frenetic raging, and silent seething that characterized the five years of our marriage after we became parents. God knows I tried my best, for my part.

But I cling to the hope that someday, in those moments when the ghost of the past whispers in their ears, what they will feel is a bittersweet longing for something beautiful—something magical yet forever lost—that they can’t quite recall. Not, I pray, a small-minded, jaded satisfaction at the end of the fraught home life that underlay their young childhoods.